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    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    interviewing consultants

    Public sector planners: What unusual questions are essential to ask when interviewing consultants for comprehensive planning projects? I'm loking for questions beyond the typical "How does this project fit in with your current and anticipated workload?"

    Private sector planners: What questions do you least like when being interviewed, and why? What questions challenge you in an interview, and why?

    Thanks in advance for sharing your ideas and experiences.
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    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Who will you see?

    Quote Originally posted by SGB
    Public sector planners: What unusual questions are essential to ask when interviewing consultants for comprehensive planning projects? I'm loking for questions beyond the typical "How does this project fit in with your current and anticipated workload?"

    Private sector planners: What questions do you least like when being interviewed, and why? What questions challenge you in an interview, and why?

    Thanks in advance for sharing your ideas and experiences.
    Its important to get a verbal confirmation about who you will actually see on a regular basis working on the project and making presentations. The people who interview are usually the best-kempt and most professional and senior consultants, and if you are not vigilant you will end up with junior staff actually working on your project. Not that junior staff are always bad but you need to make sure that the people you are interviewing are actually the people you will work with.

    I also think its important to ask them about how they can help you as a client figure out what your community needs. Its one thing to complete a scope of work and get paid- its another thing to actually help shape the scope of work in ways you hadn't thought of. On the other hand, you don't want to be pushed around by your own consultant.

    Finally, if possible, I recommend having the project billed as a fixed fee contract with payments due at key benchmarks, rather than having to track every stupid hour the consultant spends. Plus that way they are paid for product- if they do a good job and do it quickly, they make money. If they don't do a good job and waste hours on things that aren't helpful, they may not make as much money. As a public sector person its important to take advantage of the private sector incentive - profits!

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Sounds basic, but if there's some major project, like a public works project--new major roadway, etc--in the works but not yet heavily publicized, ask the consultants how they've worked the potential impact of that into their plans. I once sat in on an interview with several consultants, and one of them had not taken it into account, and it was going to bring a lot of changes to surrounding properties. At the next round of interviews, it was definitely taken into account!
    I don't dream. I plan.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian spunky2's avatar
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    Maybe this isn't allowed if your agency's interview process is especially rigid, but you can get the best feel from consultants if you let them give a quick 10 minute presentation at the beginning and then let the questions flow from there. I found that is the best way to see if they've done their homework and get a feel if they are on the "same page", so to speak.

    But I know with some public agencies there is a perception that if you don't ask everyone the exact same questions in the exact same way, it will somehow be perceived as unfair. Which is horribly lame, IMHO.

  5. #5

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    I agree with spunky2: you can learn a lot by listening to a brief presentation, then asking the questions it raises. Asking every consultant the same questions would be ok IF every consultant was the same. They aren't.

    I would tend to ask a question or two, in context, about how they deal with public input/citizen participation. A lot of consultants will not put sufficient effort into that aspect of a process because it is not profitable to do so.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I agree with whats said already, I would add, ask about their experience and abilities to engage the public and stakeholders.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian RandomPlanner's avatar
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    I know it sounds simple, but ask open ended questions like "What was your favorite project?" "What was your least favorite project?" "Why?"

    Asking the techincal stuff is okay, but I worked for a company that really wanted to know about ideas and work style as well. We asked vague questions and just listened to the applicants talk, in more of a conversation-style interview. This worked well for me on both sides of the table - coming into the company and later recruiting. It puts people more at ease and you find out the real answers rather than the canned answers that the applicant thinks you are looking for!
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  8. #8
    Be sure to ask them what they know about your town/city. They may show a bias that would make the relationship difficult.

    Their principal office location is important too. If they are an hour or two away, it will impact the relationship as well.

    (I learned both of these things the hard way.)
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
    "Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy."
    Warren Spahn

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    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Don't forget the persuasive power of kick backs.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    I think it's a good idea to ask the consultant what other services or tasks they can provide, or would recommend, that perhaps HAVEN'T been included in your RFP. This allows them to think outside the box a little, and gives you a sense of their creativity and approach.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally posted by Mud Princess
    I think it's a good idea to ask the consultant what other services or tasks they can provide, or would recommend, that perhaps HAVEN'T been included in your RFP. This allows them to think outside the box a little, and gives you a sense of their creativity and approach.

    We always ask the question: "Based on your experience, are there any important elements that we missed in our RFP?", which would serve the same purpose.

    As mentioned in the previous replies, we use a combination of interviewing methods:

    1. A set list of questions that are directed at all candidate companies.

    2. A shorter list of questions that are specifc to each individual company.

    3. Free flowing comments and counter-comments and open ended questions that emerge throughout the interview.

    And don't forget to throw a curve ball at least once. It can serve either as an ice-breaker at the front end, or as a way to test their ability to respond to un-predicted circumstances. For example, we once ask an out-of-town consultant the question: "Name us a NHL player from this City". Luckily they had a locla partner in the interview to handle that question. The amazing thing that happened a week later was that one of the junior consultant at the interview actually e-mail us a long list. That really impressed us a lot---it showed that they were serious enough to properly answer our question, but also light-hearted enough to enjoy dealing with a fun question.

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